Theatre in the Round Players presents their annual Agatha Christie adaptation with the Miss Marple thriller, A Murder is Announced. Many critics may sneer at such a quaint tradition of dusting off an Agatha Christie play every year to run from right before Thanksgiving to just before Christmas. I’m not one of those, my first show at TRP was an Agatha Christie featuring Poirot. I’m a fan of Christie, I’m well past halfway in through her bibliography. I have read the novel A Murder is Announced and have seen two TV adaptations. So, I know the story and I know Miss Marple. I’ll admit, it does hamper the enjoyment a little bit when you know the solution but that isn’t a really a big hurdle for me. I still enjoy seeing how the writer has adapted the plot, how the director has staged it, and what the actors have done with their roles. For the most part TRP has done a nice job with this years Christie. The adaptation keeps the plot and most of the characters intact. There are a couple of standout performances and overall the production is well staged. But, this was the second show in a row, that I have been to, where a major and beloved character has been altered to the detriment of the play.
As I say I knew who the killer is; however, the whodunnit I’d like the answer to is, who is responsible for this butchering of Miss Marple? Was it Leslie Darbon who adapted the novel for the stage? Was it Director Brian Joyce? Was it all the work of the actor playing the role Jane Hammill? Unfortunately, we may never know whodunnit in this particular case. I have enjoyed different interpretations of Christie characters from the most faithful Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple to the, shall we say less so with Margaret Rutherford’s take on the elderly spinster with a knack for criminology. But this was a bridge too far for me. Rather than the observantly quiet birdlike character we get an boldly arch version who takes command of the stage with a youthful energy and a conceited wit that utterly betrays the author’s intention. It isn’t just Hammill’s take on the character the costumes by Rebecca Karstad are all wrong for Marple. Though they do lend themselves to this interpretation. Only thing missing to complete this assassination would have been a cape and a fedora. It’s just the wrong choices all around in relation to this character. Perhaps they were looking to freshen things up with a new take on the character. But that too is the wrong decision. This is TRP, this is the annual Christie play, the average age of the audience has to be 60 or higher. They came for their Christie they have known and loved for decades. This is not the show of any given season to experiment with. This is our Holiday treat, this is when we want something traditional. It’s what TRP typically does really well.
Now, if you are not a Miss Marple fan, and have no particular expectation or love for that character, there is a lot that is right about this production. If that isn’t going to be an issue for you then there is no reason you wouldn’t have a fun time with this little mystery. It keeps to the basics of Christie’s plot and as such, you’ve got about as solid of a mystery as you’re likely to come across. An advertisement is placed in the local paper announcing that a murder will take place at Mrs. Blacklock’s home on a certain evening at a certain time. Everyone assumes it’s either a joke or a game, until the announcement proves deadly accurate. Miss Marple is on hand to lend assistance to Inspector Craddock and there is little doubt that justice will be served. It’s a plot choke full of coincidences that bring revelations but not solutions. It’s a very intricate scheme the killer has devised and if you don’t already know the solution you probably won’t see it coming.
The good news despite the unfortunate portrayal of Marple is that the character of Inspector Craddock seemingly has more stage time. He is played by Erik Steen and is one of the standout performances. The other is Meri Golden as Letitia Blacklock who is the owner of the house where the murder will take place and quite possibly the intended victim. Her character is put through a lot and and she does a convincing job of being the caregiver and diplomat to and between the other characters. And then slowly losing it as death closes in around her. Another highlight of the cast is Shara Marquez as the Cook Mitzi who provides some appropriate comic relief. It’s a broad character but she keeps it from becoming cartoonish. The rest of the cast does what they can with their parts. One of the downsides of a whodunnit is you have to have enough characters so that the who isn’t obvious. Several of the performers fail to make much of an impression, possibly due to lack of lines and stage time.
I know that wasn’t a glowing review, but I would like to add that if you are unfamiliar with the story and don’t know your Miss Marple from your Ariadne Oliver, you might want to give this a go. It’s a clever mystery and well staged. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.theatreintheround.org/